Better Heart Health No Matter What Your Age
Your heart is one of the hardest working muscles in your body. It’s constantly pumping blood. Heart disease can make it tough for your heart to do this job. Fortunately, research shows making healthy lifestyle changes—even later in life—may stop and actually reverse heart damage.
Age may not matter
In a recent study, researchers looked at the lifestyles of more than 3,500 adults ages 18 to 30. At the beginning of the study and 20 years later, they asked study participants about certain healthy habits. They specifically wanted to know whether the group smoked, were at a healthy weight, limited their alcohol intake, exercised regularly, and ate a healthy diet.
At the end of the 20-year study period, researchers looked for signs of heart disease. Using special imaging machines, they measured each adult’s coronary artery calcium (CAC). Too much calcium in the arteries has been linked to heart disease. They also checked for plaque buildup in the carotid arteries, which supply blood to your head and brain. Plaque is a waxlike substance that can narrow the arteries, limiting blood flow.
What did they find? Adults with more healthy habits or those who made more healthy changes over the 20 years showed fewer signs of heart disease. Their CAC was lower or not detectable. Their carotid arteries were also in better shape. That was true even if study participants made 1 or more healthy changes later in their 30s or 40s. The changes that made the biggest difference: stopping smoking and losing weight.
Never too late
Experts have known for awhile that certain healthy habits can improve the heart. Making such changes can reduce your risk for heart disease. Doing so has even been shown to reverse damage in people already diagnosed with a heart condition.
To put or keep your heart in good-working order, focus on these lifestyle changes:
Stop smoking, if you smoke. It can seriously damage blood vessels.
Try to eat a healthy diet. Experts don’t recommend any one type of eating pattern. Instead eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and nuts. Cut back on sugary foods like soda and on red meat. In general, stay away from foods high in salt, cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat.
Find time for exercise. Activities like walking, bike riding, and playing basketball can strengthen your muscles, including your heart. Aim for at least 2.5 hours a week.
Watch how much alcohol you drink. Drinking too much can raise your blood pressure.
Stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight puts you at risk for heart problems. Talk with your doctor to find out what weight is healthy for you.
Along with these 5 steps, you should regularly check your heart health. If your doctor prescribed medicines to control your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, follow his or her instructions. Be sure to have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. And tell your doctor if you have a family history of heart disease.
Want to learn more about preventing heart disease? Start with this quiz.